9/13/13 - world war II started in china

In today's selection - Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945 by Rana Mitter. The conventional view is that World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Hitler's army invaded Poland. However, it may be more appropriate to view the beginning as two years earlier on July 7, 1937 with an unplanned local conflict between Chinese and Japanese troops near Beijing known as the "Marco Polo Bridge Incident." This soon escalated into Japan's bombing of the temporary Chinese capital of Chongqing -- and to an all-out war waged by Japan against China that ultimately led to 14 million deaths and 80 million refugees:

"Most Westerners have scarcely heard of the bombing of Chongqing. Even for the Chinese themselves, the events were concealed for decades. Yet they are part of one of the great stories of the Second World War, and perhaps the least known. For decades, our understanding of that global conflict has failed to give a proper account of the role of China. If China was considered at all, it was as a minor player, a bit-part actor in a war where the United States, Soviet Union, and Britain played much more significant roles. Yet China was the first country to face the onslaught of the Axis Powers in 1937, two years before Britain and France, and four years before the United States. And after Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), one American goal was to 'keep China in the war.' By holding down large numbers of Japanese troops on the mainland, China was an important part of the overall Allied strategy. China had much less ability to make its own decisions than the other Allies because it was so much weaker than they, both economically and politically. Yet the war still marked a vital step in China's progression from semi-colonized victim of global imperialism to its entry, however tentative, on the world stage as a sovereign power with wider regional and global responsibilities.

"Nor has the outside world ever fully understood the ghastly price that China paid to maintain its resistance against Japan for eight long years, from 1937 to 1945. Some 14 million deaths, massive refugee flight, and the destruction of the country's embryonic modernization were the costs of the war, The road to victory for the Chinese Communist Party in 1949 lay within the devastated landscape of China created by the years of war with Japan.

"In recent years the sheer scale of the war in China has become apparent. What began on July 7, 1937, as an unplanned local conflict between Chinese and Japanese troops near Beijing, known as the 'Marco Polo Bridge Incident,' escalated into an all-out war between the two great nations of East Asia; it would not end until August 1945. In the eight intervening years China's Nationalist government was forced into internal exile, along with millions of refugees. Huge tracts of the country were occupied by the Japanese, who sponsored collaborators to create new forms of government aimed at destroying the authority of the Nationalists. In other parts of the country, the Chinese Communist Party grew in influence, burnishing its credentials through resistance to the Japanese, and vastly increasing its territorial base through policies of radical social reform. The toll that the war inflicted on China is still being calculated, but conservative estimates number the dead at 14 million at least (the British Empire and United States each lost over 400,000 during the Second World War, and Russia more than 20 million). The number of Chinese refugees may have reached more than 80 million.

"The greater part of China's hard-won modernization was destroyed, including most of the rail network, sealed highways, and industrial plants created in the first decades of the twentieth century: 30 percent of the infrastructure in the rich Pearl River delta near Canton, 52 percent in Shanghai, and a staggering 80 percent in the capital, Nanjing.The war would undo two empires in China (the British and the Japanese) and help to create two more (the American and the Soviet)."


Rana Mitter


Forgotten Ally


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Copyright 2013 by Rana Mitter


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